Billy Bray said, "My comrades used to tell me that was no religion, dancing, shouting, and making so much-to-do, but I was born in the fire and could not live in the smoke."
William 'Billy' Trewartha Bray was born June 1, 1794, at Twelveheads, a village near Truro, in Cornwall, England. Billy Bray, this tin-mining, uneducated drunk would become a famous Methodist preacher known as "God's man with a shout."
Billy Bray's father died when he was quite young, leaving William to live with his grandfather, who had joined the Methodist church under the preaching of John Wesley. When Billy Bray turned seventeen, he went to Devonshire where he "became the companion of drunkards, and during that time was very near hell." Billy Bray lived most of his life in Cornwall, except for the seven years he worked in Devon.
In 1821, Billy Bray married a woman named Johanna and fathered seven children. The unlettered Billy Bray found work as a tin miner, but was so drawn and shackled to alcohol that his wife would have to go and fetch him each night out of the local pubs. Billy Bray would rather fritter away all his money on ale than provide for his wife and children.
One day there was a terrible accident at the tin mine where Billy Bray worked. The roof of the mine ruptured, barely missing him. This incident shook Billy Bray deeply; he knew that he would have gone straight to hell if he had been killed. Soon after, in November of 1823, a friend gave Billy Bray a book to read. Billy Bray, not really wanting to read it, found himself drawn to its pages anyway. It was after reading this book that Billy Bray began to seriously consider his lost spiritual condition. The book was "Visions of Heaven and Hell" by John Bunyan.
Billy Bray's wife had been a Christian as a child, but over time she had become lukewarm and backslid. One night, Billy Bray talked with her about the Lord. She told him that her memories of serving Jesus were wonderful. Billy Bray asked her why she didn't just begin again. Billy Bray thought if he could wait for his wife to return to Jesus then he could become a Christian too. That night he went to bed knowing that he needed to pray. For some reason he felt uncomfortable praying in front of his wife and just couldn't do it. At around three in the morning, however, Billy Bray got up from his bed thoroughly convinced of his sinful condition. With the episode at the mine still weighing heavy on his mind, he thought to himself that he could not wait for his wife to get right with God. He had to talk to God himself. He didn't want to die without his salvation. Then Billy Bray got down on his knees and cried out to God.
No one had to wait long to see the fruit of change in Billy Bray's life. The next day was payday at the tin mine. That night the pubs would be full with lively music and drunken miners, yet Billy Bray would not be one of the patrons. For the first time in years, Billy came home sober to his wife. After seeing a significant change in Billy Bray, within a week of his salvation, Johanna recommitted herself to the Lordship of Christ.
In Billy Bray's own words, he describes that life-changing night:
I said to the Lord, "Thou hast said, they that ask shall receive, they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the door shall be opened, and I have faith to believe it." In an instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what he had done for a poor sinner like me: for I could say, the Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with David, "The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God." I was a new man altogether."
One of the most striking things about Billy Bray was his continual excitement and joy after his salvation. Just like today, many religious people Billy saw were often gloomy and sorrowful. "If they were truly born-again," Billy Bray thought, "you would never have known it by their lives." When one came around Billy Bray he was always smiling, singing, and shouting praises to God.
One day, when questioned about his abundant joy, he responded, "He has made me glad and no one can make me sad. He makes me shout and no one can make me doubt. He it is that makes me dance and leap, and there is no one that can keep down my feet." He said, "I sometimes feel so much of the power of God that, I believe, if they were to cut off my feet I should heave up the stumps.
Many of the religious people of his day could be heard complaining about Billy's dancing and shouting. They thought it was beneath a good Christian to act in such a way. Whenever Billy Bray heard the complaints he would just remind them of how the Prophetess Miriam and King David danced before the Lord, and of the cripple at Lystra who, after he was healed, leaped and walked, praising God. Billy Bray declared that it was even prophesied that "the lame shall leap as a hart" (Isaiah 35:6). "I can't help praising God." Billy Bray insisted, "As I go along the street I lift up one foot, and it seems to say, glory. And I lift up the other, and it seems to say, amen, and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking." To those who objected to his shouting he would say, "If they were to put me in a barrel, I would shout glory out through the bung-hole."
Billy Bray was asked if people sometimes got in such a habit of praising that they did not know what they were praising about. Billy Bray replied, "I do not think that the Lord is much troubled with that class of person."
One day Billy Bray heard of the death of a preacher who had opposed any emotion in the church. Billy Bray, commenting on the preacher's ministry, said, "So, he is done with the doubters and has got up now with the shouters." Turning to some others standing by, he said, "Some can only eat out of the silent dish, but I can not only eat out of that one, but out of the shouting dish, and jumping dish, and every other dish. My comrades used to tell me that was no religion, dancing, shouting, and making so much-to-do, but I was born in the fire and could not live in the smoke."
Billy Bray became a great evangelist to the poor miners of Cornwall, England. During his life he and his son built several churches, including Bethel Chapel, Kerley Downs Chapel (also known as Three Eyes Chapel because it was originally built with three large windows), and Great Deliverance Chapel.
Of the Kerley Downs Chapel, built only a mile from where Billy was born, he said,
When our chapel was up about to the door-head, the devil said to me, “They are all gone and left you and the chapel and I would go and leave the place too." Then I said, "Devil, doesn't thee know me better than that; by the help of the Lord I will have the chapel up, or lose my skin on the down." So the devil said no more to me on that subject. Sometimes I have had blisters on my hands and they have been very sore but I did not mind that, for if the chapel should stand for one hundred years and if one soul were converted in it every year that would be a hundred souls and that would pay me well if I get to heaven."
At the end of Billy Bray's life, the doctor was present at his bedside. With little tact, he told Billy Bray that he was going to die. Billy Bray, considering his words only for a moment, responded, “Glory! Glory, be to God! I shall soon be in heaven.” Then he asked the doctor a final question, “When I get up there, shall I give them your compliments, doctor, and tell them you will be coming too?” This really touched the hard-hearted doctor’s heart. Even near death, Billy’s joy was a powerful witness to the love of Christ. Billy’s dying word was, “Glory.” Yet right before he died, he said of death, “What, me fear death? Lost? Why, my Savior conquered death. If I was to go down to hell I would shout glory! Glory, to my blessed Jesus until I made the bottomless pit ring again, and that miserable old Satan would say, ‘Billy, Billy, this is no place for thee: get thee back!’ Then up to heaven I should go, shouting glory! Glory! Praise the Lord!”
William ‘Billy’ Bray, God’s man with a shout, went on to be with the Lord and heavens other shouters on May 25, 1868. He is buried at the Kerley Downs Chapel in Cornwall, England.
© by Apostle Jonas Clark